The controversy over Apple’s HomePod continues to simmer – late to the party, overpriced, no stereo, music from Apple sources only, limited Siri commands, limited third party SiriKit support.
I’ve now had my HomePod over a week and am seriously impressed by the device. Music quality is superb; I’m no audiophile but even I can tell it’s better than most of its competitors. The way the sound adjusts to fit the shape of the room is brilliant. The integration with HomeKit covers the commands I need for my home automation with Philips Hue lights and Elgato Eve switches. As you’d expect, if you use the Apple ecosystem then having a device that is tightly integrated works so much better than alternatives.
Apple has absolutely nailed setup. If you have AirPods you’ll know what I mean. Compare that to Amazon’s dreadful Alexa app which has been a source of problems from the start.
The HomePod makes a great speaker phone – start the call on your iPhone and then switch the audio settings over to the HomePod. Call quality is excellent and it handles people walking around the room well. Currently calls are limited to the phone app and FaceTime Audio, but Apple could provide an API so other calling apps could take advantage of HomePod. I’ve used all sorts of speaker phones over the years and HomePod is without a doubt the best.
Another area where the HomePod scores over the Echo is responding to spoken commands when playing music. My Echo often struggled with commands when it was playing music, especially at higher volumes, frequently ignoring me. The HomePod’s microphone array means it works perfectly whatever the volume of music being played.
Whilst SiriKit support is a bit limited, where it does work it’s excellent. I’ve been using HomePod to add tasks to Things, my pan-device task manager and it works well. Only proviso is that it needs my iPhone to be in the vicinity because the request is personal to me.
Apple always has to balance tight ecosystem integration with support for third-party products. It’s not always something they get right immediately, and third party support often grows over time. Where Apple has a product that directly competes with a third-party product (think Apple Music and Spotify), it’s reasonable to exclude the third party from tight integration. In the case of music you can get around this with AirPlay anyway. Apple wants to keep customers in ‘their world’ so keeping direct competitors on the outside makes commercial sense.
With the arrival of my HomePod, my Amazon Echo is now lurking elsewhere in the house in a very minor role (I’m just glad I got it half-price in a flash sale!).
Written by Jonathan Jensen, who has been working in payments for 18 years covering digital money, identity verification, telco billing, finance systems and consumer payment services; in both startup and corporate environments. Most recently, his experience is in developing alternative consumer payment models. “I’m passionate about removing the friction and frustration from payments. The convergence of payments and mobile technology and its impact on consumers fascinates me.” You can follow Jonathan on Twitter at @sevendotzero